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Indonesian War of Independence (in numbers)

Based on various sources and publications, an overview is given of known numbers of fatalities for the Indonesian War of Independence.

Dutch victims of the Bersiap period in the Dutch East Indies (the period after the Japanese capitulation):

Estimates of the number of Dutch and Dutch-Indonesian civilian deaths as a result of the Bersiap vary from 3,500 to 30,000. By late 1947, the Dutch authorities estimated the total number of Bersiap victims at 3,500; it is not clear whether this included the Ambonese victims. According to L. de Jong, this estimate was probably too low: murders were only reported if the victims had relations who could do so, but many Indonesian Dutch men and women who had married Indonesians lived isolated lives in the country’s interior. By the end of 1948, around 2,500 Europeans were still missing in the Dutch East Indies - but that figure also included people who had disappeared without a trace during the Japanese occupation. (L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, vol. 12, pp. 744-745). The American historian William H. Frederick considers it likely that there were about 25,000 to 30,000 Dutch and Dutch Indonesian deaths (‘The killing of Dutch and Eurasians in Indonesia’s national revolution (1945-49): a “brief genocide” reconsidered’, Journal of Genocide Research, vol.14 (2012), nos. 3-4). See also the NIOD blog ‘De slachtoffers van de Bersiap’ (‘The victims of the Bersiap’).

Dutch soldiers killed in the Indonesian War of Independence:

The average number of the troops in the Dutch East Indies in the period 1946-1949:

Royal Dutch Army: 70,000
KNIL: 40,000
Marine Brigade: 5,000

We should emphasise that this is the average strength of the land forces present in the Dutch East Indies in the years 1946-1949. The total number of soldiers who served in the Dutch East Indies at any given time during this period must therefore have been considerably higher.

The loss figures can be broken down as follows (losses of soldiers killed in action and those who died of disease or accidents):

Royal Dutch Army: 1,602 and 907
KNIL: 722 and 1,098
Marine Brigade: 155 and 101
Total: 2,479 killed in action and 2,106 who died of disease or accidents (in total: 4,585)

(Source: D.C.L. Schoonoord, De Mariniersbrigade 1943-1949; Wording en inzet in Indonesië (‘The Marine Brigade 1943-1949; Origin and deployment in Indonesia’), Amsterdam 1988, p. 315).

Retired colonel J.W. de Leeuw arrives at the following total for the period between 15 August 1945 and 1 January 1963 (that is including the conflict over New Guinea in 1962):

Combat losses (including those who were murdered): 3,281
Non-combat losses (disease, accidents, executions, etc.): 2,134
Cause of death unknown: 762
Total: 6,177

Police officers, Red Cross staff, and others who died are also included in these numbers. Finally, these figures also include those who never arrived in the Dutch East Indies. They belonged to a unit about to be deployed and were therefore included by De Leeuw. De Leeuw emphasises that these figures are still subject to change. (Source: the so-called Roermond database of De Leeuw)

During the first major Dutch military action (Operation Product), 169 Dutch soldiers died, during the second (Operation Crow) 113 died (L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, vol. 12, pp. 972).

Indonesian losses during the War of Independence:

It is not known exactly how many Indonesian victims fell in the period 1945-1949 as a result of the independence struggle. In any case, it is certain that the Indonesian military losses were many times greater than the Dutch.

In 1988, Dr. L. de Jong wrote in Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog that Indonesia claimed that the Republican forces lost a total of approximately 100,000 men in the years 1945-1949, and that Dutch military historians hold this to be a reliable figure (volume 12, page 865, note 3). However, it is not exactly clear what De Jong based his claims on. He did not venture to estimate the total number of Indonesian civilian casualties, but only mentioned that the anti-colonial struggle on Java had claimed the lives of several tens of thousands of Indonesians, and that on Sumatra in the period preceding the First Police Action, there were some 7,000 victims among the Karo-Bataks alone. In addition, De Jong wrote, several tens of thousands of Indonesians are believed to have died as a result of the Madiun revolt initiated by the PKI (vol. 12, page 1014).

In his book A history of modern Indonesia, Adrian Vickers concludes that there were between 45,000 and 100,000 military fatalities and between 25,000 and 100,000 civilian fatalities (p. 105 [second edition]). In the early 1990s, Petra Groen calculated that according to the Dutch military reports, almost 47,000 Indonesian soldiers were killed on Java and Sumatra in the period from 1 January to 10 August 1949 (i.e. in little over seven months). She noted, however, that these figures were “less reliable”: for one thing, they are incomplete, for another, some Dutch commanders in the field at the time deliberately reported inflated enemy losses (Marsroutes en dwaalsporen; Het Nederlands militair-strategisch beleid in Indonesië 1945-1950 (‘March Routes and Wrong Tracks; The Dutch military strategic policy in Indonesia 1945-1950’) pp. 238 and 262).

In 2017 a research team of KITLV and Leiden University used similar Dutch military records from October 1945 to December 1949, and concluded that the Dutch troop commanders in the field during this period reported a total of almost one hundred thousand Indonesian casualties. This number is almost the same as the estimate given by L. de Jong in 1988. However, the Leiden research team considers it very likely that this should be considered the “lower limit” and that the actual number of Indonesian deaths may have been higher. Moreover, the Dutch figures (which are likely to include not only combatants but also an unknown number of civilians who died) relate only to deaths resulting from actions carried out under the Dutch flag; they therefore do not include the victims of the violence among the Indonesians.

Compensation paid by Japan to the Netherlands:

As a result of the peace treaty between Japan and the Netherlands that was signed in 1951, the following two compensation schemes for private individuals were made in 1954 and 1956:

In 1954, an agreement was reached with Japan about compensation for former Allied prisoners of war and their next of kin. An amount of NLG 11 million was made available for the Netherlands. This meant that the approximately 41,000 Dutch beneficiaries, either former prisoners of war or their next of kin, received NLG 264 each. About 18,000 of them, those who had worked on the infamous Burma Railway (or their next of kin), also shared in the proceeds of the railway equipment sold to Thailand. This resulted in an additional amount of exactly NLG 61.73 each.

Then, in 1955, direct negotiations started between the Netherlands and Japan on compensation for civilian internees. In the end, both parties arrived at a sum of NLG 38 million in March 1956. On 5 December of that year, Foreign Minister Luns announced the exact amount available for each civilian internee or survivor in Parliament: 385 guilders each. Because the number of applicants turned out to be smaller than expected (the end over 90,000 instead of 110,000), the recipients later received additional payments of 30 guilders each.

Japan thus paid the sum of about 50 million NLG to compensate the Dutch who had been interned in Japanese camps during the war: about 12 million NLG for the military, and 38 million NLG for civilians or their surviving relatives, in all about 130,000 people. With the implementation of these agreements, the curtain on the war against Japan officially closed in 1956.


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